Amtrak advice

So I’m thinking of making a brief round trip to NYC next month.

The place I need to go to is in midtown Manhattan, and the Carolinian could take me from Durham, NC to Penn Station. Depending on which ticket I buy, I’d be looking at roughly $275-300 for a round trip. I’d go up the day before I need to be there and come back the day after.

Am I nuts for doing this? We’re talking an entire day, pretty much, each way. But flying sucks and I’d have to get myself from whatever airport I’d arrive at to midtown at additional hassle and expense. I’ve also heard of significant delays on Amtrak, though, and I don’t want to end up getting into town at 3 am or something.

Also, are there any decent hotels within a few blocks of Penn that don’t cost a fortune?

That’s basically a 12-hour train ride. Whether you think that’s better than a 2-hour flight from RDU to New York is up to you. I think it probably isn’t.

The Hotel Pennsylvania is across the street. Whether it’s decent is a subject of much debate.

But it’s not really just a two-hour flight, is it? There’s getting to and from the airports, and there’s the security theater.

What I see for the train ride is 11 hours, and $190-$286.

I’ve stayed in the Affinia a couple of times, which is a block south of Hotel Pennsylvania between 30th & 31st on 7th. The company still uses it though my group gets one closer to our (satellite) work location.
1.) Amtrak’s always on time.
2.) Go to lower Manhattan; there’s a really cool, old bridge that will take you into another borough. I currently own it; it’s for sale, I’ll cut you a great deal.
One of the above two sentences is believable.

Why do train fans presume that everyone lives inside the train station and can just roll out of bed into the train the very moment the train is scheduled to leave, but that the airport is two states away, there’s a blizzard, and two tanker trunks of gasoline have just collided on the highway? I find this very puzzling.

My apologies if you do live inside the train station.

Hey, I’m a train fan too. But I’m also practical. Most train stations are at city centers (or close to them) whereas airports usually aren’t. Compare the locations of Penn Station to LGA or JFK.

That said, I can’t think of any reason to justify this particular train trip over a flight. Especially if you go into LGA. Security isn’t as bad as you think. And commute times from LGA to Manhattan and Raleigh to RDU are not onerous.

Because Amtrak lines people up to board the train 10 minutes before departure time.* Airlines have already closed the gate 10 minutes before departure time, and want you to be there at least an hour earlier.

*At Chicago Union Station, Penn Station, and the other places where they use the idiotic airplane-style boarding. At most Amtrak stations, you can arrive 15 seconds before departure. And I have, on occasion.

I think it depends on whether you want to look at the train trip as an adventure on its own and have time to do it, and aren’t the type to get bored hanging out in the same place after 2 hours.

I’d do the train as a fun trip in itself, but only if I have the time for it. Check out any station stops that are long (there’s an Amtrak I take to Missouri with a 2 hour layover in St. Louis, everybody leaves and goes shopping or out to eat).

I would also only make that long a train ride with a cabin of some sort, or at least business class. Well, I don’t do any train trip without business class. If it’s too short a trip to have at least a business car then I’ll be driving.

Food on an Amtrak train will be much worse than what you would encounter in an airport.

I think Amtrak is less likely to be late, but when it is, it might be catastrophically late. You could wind up stuck on the train for an extra ten hours, eating that train food (or wishing you had that bad train food, after they have run out).


I adore long train rides. For me, there is something infinitely relaxing about sitting down in my seat and know there is absolutely nothing I will need to do for the next X hours beyond looking at the scenery. I love train stations. I love packing a little picnic. I love everything about it.

If you have time and have never done a long train ride, I say go for it. It’s an adventure of its own and worth doing at least once in a lifetime. Bring a couple good books and a bag of snacks and enjoy the ride.

For most routes it won’t be as efficient as air, especially given Amtrak’s notorious delays. That’s not usually the best lens to look at it. A long train trip is something else, the way that a road trip or ferry ride are different creatures.

I do have time for the train trip, and I like train travel. The location of the stations is also much more convenient for me than the airports on either end. I wouldn’t be considering the train at all if that weren’t the case. A business class ticket wouldn’t save me any money over a plane trip, but there’d be no additional expenses for me such as parking and transportation to/from like there would be for the airport.

Funny you should mention that.

Yes, I pretty much feel like this too - the part that concerns me is the possibility of delays, and of course the fact that it’s winter makes that more likely if the weather decides to not cooperate.

Seconded. I love train rides – time to read and relax and have no responsibilities. And the seats are big and comfy.

You don’t have to eat the train food at all. Bring your own basket, and a bottle of wine.

The worst travel delay I ever experienced was in a plane, in winter. We ended up being stuck on the runway, periodically getting the wings de-iced, for longer than it eould have taken to drive the whole way.

It takes a bigger blizzard to stop a train.

Yeah, I’m not saying trains never have problems, but, well, it does take a bigger blizzard to stop a train than a plane.
And, the train seats are built for normal humans, not by cost-obsessed airline executives vying to find the smallest possible seat space that won’t result in lawsuits for permanently crippling passengers, you can get up and walk around on a train, go play cards in the club car, or whatever, be using your laptop the entire way, and can bring your own drinks and nail clippers on board without paying for luggage. Plus there are usually designated quiet cars where cell phone conversations aren’t allowed! Food is pretty darn mediocre on Amtrak, but it’s not like I’ve heard people raving about the quality and inexpensiveness of US airline food.
For something like downtown Providence, RI to NYC, it’s a no-brainer. 5 minutes to and from the station each end, plus 5 minutes to wait for the train and 3 hours travel, versus 40-60 minutes travelling to/from airports, half an hour boarding/waiting, half an hour for security theater, and an hour and half flight, plus 20 minutes waiting for luggage if needed. I make that 3:15 vs 3:00 or 3:20 flying.

Personally, I’m not sure that I’d train from Raleigh to NYC, but I can see the attraction of it; especially if it’s a for-fun trip where the train might add to the fun and relaxation of it.
Just be sure to buy your Amtrak ticket early enough to get the super saver fares or whatever they’re called; otherwise the cost starts to become out of line.

Does Amtrak run a sleeper service?

Aren’t those amenities on the train sort of a point against it? It’s nice that you can stretch your legs, drink multiple beverages, have a meal, and play cards on the train, but you only need to do those things in the first place because you’re stuck on the train longer.

I guess everybody values different things, though.

Bolding mine.

I understand this point of view, but again, the OP (and I, and others) actually find riding the train pleasant. So it’s not a feeling of being stuck. It’s leisurely travel BECAUSE you’re able to do those things. And therefore, preferable at times.